Colin Farrell’s matinee idol looks enclose the soul of a character actor, a combination twisted to impressive effect in “The Lobster.”
The first English-language feature by celebrated Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos is a macabre romantic satire of our dating rituals and personal prejudices. The dense, weird film envisions a world where the pressure to serve as a “breeder” offers stark choices. Either live emotionally cold and pretending to love, or defend your independence through loneliness in hiding.
Farrell plays a pudgy, mustachioed schlump living in this oddball Kafka-esque society. Newly divorced, he is required to find a mate with traits akin to his own during a 45-day stay at a dismal hotel. Otherwise the sinister culture will transform him into the animal of his choice and set him loose in the wilderness. With his hefty, softly sculpted physique, flat affect and monotone deadpan dialogue, Farrell may be the most unrecognizable famous actor since Heath Ledger’s caky Joker makeup in “The Dark Knight.”
In a phone conversation, Farrell said that what drew him to be an uncommon character in an unusual tale was his admiration for the Oscar-nominated Lanthimos’ work.
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“I don’t think I’ve ever used the term, but he’s a visionary director,” the star said. “He has such a very clear and perceptive opinion on life and love. He tackles some very absurd ideas on family and community and social systems,” without offering specific advice on how to live or couple.
The film’s focus is “the nature of love and what it is or isn’t,” Farrell said. “Anytime you get a writer and director who is creating something that is unusual but also as valid as his work seems to be, it’s an amazing opportunity to take part of.”
He continued: “I read the script and I found it funny-ish. I also found it horrific at times and ultimately moving in a bizarre way,” a darkly comic allegorical comment about modern life and love in the age of Tinder. “It feels true and accurate about the way the world is portrayed,” though it paints that portrait of our culture to ridicule its vice and folly. And occasionally, its moments of shocking violence.
“It references patriarchal society, class rule, different ideologies that conflict with each other,” Farrell said.
Under the rules of the film’s oppressive dystopia, authoritarian controls are inescapable. Our hero escapes from his confinement and joins “the loners” hiding in the woods, only to learn that their scary leader, played by Lea Seydoux, enforced systems of control that are just as repressive.
Rachel Weisz plays a good-hearted woman among the anti-romantic loners who may or may not offer him a successful relationship. The pair who have been far from passion for ages fall into long-running kissing scenes of comic awkwardness. Nevertheless, Farrell said, he felt that the cool, enigmatic fantasy is at heart a love story.
Farrell enjoys movies that are difficult yet accessible.
“I appreciate films that are pure escapism. I pay money to go see those films in the theater myself. It’s also great to go see films that have a little more observation to them and are a little more peculiar.”
As Lanthimos digs into questions about human behavior and the human condition, “his films are a little mythological though they’re without dinosaurs and aren’t set in the distant past. It’s very distant from our world, but he’s holding up a mirror in which we recognize our behaviors and relationships, fears and hopes and responses to things. I knew it would be an adventure that didn’t reflect anything before, and in the future couldn’t be replicated.”